At the end of April 2023, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on the deportation and forced transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia. The first time that an international document refers to possible genocide by Russia against Ukrainians with reference to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The illegal deportation of minor citizens of Ukraine to Russia is the type of crime for which the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for president Putin and the Russian Commissioner for Child’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.
Twenty percent of the entire child population of Ukraine now has its consciousness formed under the influence of Russia
The adopted resolution states that a large part of Ukrainian children was taken to Russia to summer camps, where their “re-education”, in particular, “Russification”, was conducted.
In these camps, children were forbidden to speak Ukrainian or express their Ukrainian identity in any way, instead they were taught Russian language, the Russian version of history, and came under the influence of Russian patriotic propaganda. Some children were even falsely told that their parents had died, so that it would become possible to change their last names to prevent them from being found later on.
However, all these facts have a much deeper history because Russia began to use Ukrainian children for its own political, demographic, and propaganda purposes long before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Back in 2014, immediately after the annexation of Crimea, Russia launched a “train of hope” that brought Russian citizens to illegally adopt Ukrainian children. The result of the first such “train” was 12 consents to relinquish children from boarding schools on the peninsula for adoption by Russian families.
According to Mykola Kuleba, the former Ukrainian commissioner for children’s rights, since 2014 until today, “more than one and a half million children are in the territory of the Russian Federation or in the occupied territories of Ukraine under the influence of Russia.”
Taking into account the data of 2020, more than 7.5 million children lived in Ukraine. More than 105,000 of them had a “status” and lived in orphanages or other institutions. In other words, we are talking about the fact that due to the occupation of the territories, the consciousness as many as 20% of the entire child population of Ukraine is now being formed by an enemy.
Under the pretext of “evacuation”, “healing vacations” and “adoption” Ukrainian children are taken to Russia during a full-scale war.
The first reports of forced deportation to Russia of children – an act of genocide – began to appear in mid-March 2022, during the fighting for the city of Mariupol. At the end of March, the authorities of Ukraine and the United States announced the “kidnapping” of more than 2,300 children by russian troops from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
That same spring of 2022, Russia’s TASS news agency reported on the deportation of 1,208,225 civilians from Ukraine, 210,224 of which were children.
At the end of May, amendments were made to the law “On Martial Law” to allow for so-called “elections” to be held under martial law conditions and to “legalise” the deportation of residents of temporarily occupied territories; and Putin signed Decree No. 330, which simplified the procedure for granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainian orphans or persons left without parental care.
Eventually, it became known that in the summer of 2022, more than 1,000 Ukrainian children, who were illegally taken from Mariupol captured by the occupiers, were transferred for “adoption” in the Krasnodar region of Russia. More than 300 Ukrainian children were in the queue for “adoption” and were in specialized institutions in the Krasnodar region of Russia.
On the pretext of evacuation, “healing vacations” and adoption – these are the three most common scenarios for the abduction and transfer of Ukrainian children during the full-scale invasion of Russia.
Therefore, the Ukrainian side can testify that more than 19,000 children have currently been taken to Russia.
We are talking about only those cases that were officially recorded when the father, guardian or witness of the child’s deportation reported the matter to the National Information Bureau of Ukraine.
However, in reality, there are many more children in this situation. Many children became orphans because of Russia, as their parents were killed, and the children were subsequently taken to Russia.
Also there are the children whose parents are alive, but they were told that their parents had died and they had nowhere to return. Therefore due to the occupation, it is impossible to make a comprehensive analysis. On the other hand, the Russian side still has not provided any lists, as this would of course be ironclad proof of the crimes committed. Experts from the Humanities Research Laboratory at the Yale School of Public Health (HRL) discovered 43 facilities where children from Ukraine were held after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
As for the Russian side, Maria lvova-Belova, Commissioner for the Child’s Rights under the president of the Russian federation, publicly stated that 744,000 children from Ukraine are currently in russia, claiming that most of them were accompanied by guardians, and presenting it as “humanitarian action”. Later, lvova-Belova reported that the Russian occupation authorities took “about 1.5 thousand” children from Ukrainian institutional facilities for orphans or children left without care to Russia and gave them to foster families in Russia.
The main question is how to return Ukrainian children home as soon as possible.
Let us return to the PACE resolution, which was adopted in April 2023.
As Paulo Pisco, who presented a report to the PACE parliamentarians during the debate on the abduction of Ukrainian children, noted, the main goal of the resolution, first of all, is to “condemn the situation where deportation and forced transfer of children are clearly visible.” The second point is to condemn violations of international law, and the third is to draw attention to the need to return all these children home.”
Currently, it is known that about 400 children have so far been returned to Ukraine, mostly thanks to the efforts of volunteers. That is, for almost 20 months of the ongoing war in Ukraine, no mechanism was created that would guarantee the return of children to the territories controlled by Ukraine.
The Geneva Convention for the Protection of the Civilian Population in Time of War provides for the possibility of concluding agreements between belligerent countries in order to return the civilian population that has been transferred or deported in violation of Article 49. However, since there are no negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, this option can currently be considered unworkable.
Another mechanism, which is prescribed in international law, takes place through the mediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross or another international organisation.
However, another scandal that took place around the actions of the Belarusian Red Cross at the beginning of this autumn does not add optimism to this option. When the head of the Belarusian Red Cross Society, Dmytro Shevtsov, during another trip to the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, admitted in a report of the “Belarus 1” TV channel that his organisation participates in the transfer of children from Ukraine. In fact, Lukashenko himself confirmed that there are forcibly deported Ukrainian children on the territory of Belarus.
In recent days information has appeared in the mass media concerning the return of four children thanks to the mediation of Qatar, through which both Ukrainian and Russian officials were able to cooperate.
In a statement, Qatar’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, Lolwah Al Khater, called the repatriation “just the first step.” Are we witnessing a development of an effective alternative mediation mechanism of a neutral third country – something that would suit both parties?
Here we are talking about the need to create an effective mechanism – an intermediary state through which all communications, collection and exchange of information may be conducted. It is on the basis of this state that a special structure can be created to deal with the issue of Ukrainian children, and which the representatives of international organizations may join, etc.
After all, despite the recognition and condemnation of the crimes committed by Russia – war crimes and the crime of genocide, despite all the horrors of the war, the issue of returning children home remains the most painful for the Ukrainian people and the European community.
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